The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (“NRC”) has once again come under fire from Congressman Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., for failing to deal seriously with allegations of retaliation against nuclear safety whistleblowers. The allegations – which we have written about multiple times in the past – deal specifically with NRC’s Region IV office, headquartered in Arlington, Texas. Reports coming out of the Region IV office include:
- Allegations that a power plant which had been assigned the highest level of safety concerns was not included in an agency-wide review of plants with significant performance problems;
- Detailed allegations of retaliation by Troy Pruett, Deputy Division Director of Division Reactor Projects at the Region IV offices, against employees who raise safety concerns. These included openly berating individuals in meetings, informing peers and supervisors that the individuals’ work performance was unsatisfactory, lowering the individuals’ performance rating after years of outstanding performance reviews, altering the reporting chain so that these individuals had to report all activities to Mr. Pruett on a daily basis, and issuing verbal and written reprimands to these employees;
- Allegations that in two such cases, Region IV management forwarded formal written complaints against Mr. Pruett to Mr. Pruett to allow him to decide himself whether or not his actions were retaliatory;
- Allegations that Region IV management repeatedly altered reports or pressured subordinates to alter reports which raise safety concerns; and
- Consistent concern among the individuals who contacted Rep. Markey that they did not trust the NRC Inspector General (“IG”) to resolve their concerns, “in part because the NRC IG has a history of reporting whistleblower retaliation concerns back to the very same management accused of the retaliation in the first place, and in part because of a perceived bias on the part of the IG towards making conclusions that support NRC management’s views.”
Rep. Markey’s newest letter to NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane reiterates his previous concerns and asserts new ones. Re. Markey’s letter states that Region IV staff who recently communicated with his office informed him that the NRC has not even begun an effort to assemble materials he had requested to examine the reports. Rep. Markey states that he was also alerted by those individuals, and through informal communication with the NRC IG’s office, that the IG investigation into this matter was being intentionally limited, and was therefore unlikely to result in a true assessment of whether safety culture problems in NRC's Region IV exist. The Congressman also reiterated his request that the NRC retain an independent contractor to examine the issues in the Region IV office, rather than allowing the investigation to be conducted internally.
Before concluding his letter with some requests for assistance from the NRC, Rep. Markey issued a strong condemnation of the investigation as it is currently being conducted stating:
The nature, breadth, quantity and varied sources of the allegations I have received regarding Mr. Pruett have led me to conclude that not a single attribute of a positive safety culture identified by NRC in its safety culture policy statement are met in Region IV. It is also impossible to describe the Region IV office as living up to NRC's Open Collaborative Work Environment. Yet, it is apparent that the IG either was not requested to assess Region IV's safety culture or work environment, or has chosen not to do so.